7 Steps to an Organic Vegetable Garden

There has been a lot of hype about the benefits of eating organic. The fact that food is grown without toxic chemicals, preservatives or pesticides make it an attractive choice to many consumers, but the sticker shock at the grocery store might cause you to think twice about buying organic.  

If you like the thought of eating healthy but are not sure if organic farming is right for you, check out the 7 steps below to see if you might want to join the growing number of people who have taken the plunge and started their own organic gardens!

1. Contact your local county extension office, many who have master gardener volunteers ready to help answer questions, make recommendations and provide you with a list of the best dates to plant in your area. They should be able to do a soil test to tell you what might be missing from your soil. You can also check with local organic farms, farmers markets or friends who love to garden.

2. Pick a spot in your yard, or if you prefer, a raised container bed or wood pallet bed. You should plan on about 16 square feet per person, but don’t overwhelm yourself. We recommend starting with a 4’x4′ sized garden. Most vegetables need about 6 hours of sunlight and plenty of water so you will want to make sure you plant close to a hose.

3. It’s all about the dirt. If you are lucky to live in a place where rich soil is abundant, you have a head start. You may choose to purchase organic soil from your local garden center. Regardless, compost is a perfect addition to any soil, and you can make your own using a plastic container bin with a lid and a little water. Simply toss in your kitchen scraps, garden waste, like leaves and some grass clippings or straw. Manure from plant eating animals like horses, sheep, rabbits etc., is a great option that can be added to your soil as long as it is well-rotted but don’t use household pet refuse. Once your soil and compost is down, add about 2 inches of organic mulch as a top layer to protect and nourish your soil as it breaks down. 

4. Clear the spot and add dig about 9-12 inches and turn the dirt over. Add compost then till (mix). Don’t start your garden if the ground is saturated, as it is best to wait until the ground is moist to the touch but not soaking. Each spring, before you plant, you will need to turn the soil for best plant growth.

5. What will you plant? Pick vegetables you and your family like to eat. Choices include tomatoes, peppers, kale, potatoes, squash, cucumber, watermelon, string beans, lettuce, carrots etc. Plant lettuce, potatoes and herbs like thyme and sage in early spring. Green beans, tomatoes and summer squash grow best in late spring after the last frost. Late summer is great for arugula and turnips.  You will need to decide if you want to grow your garden from seeds or from transplants, which are young plants ready to be put into the ground. See below for a list of planting tips.

6. Just add water. You will need to water daily, especially for seedlings. Young plants do well with watering every other day, but check with your advisors on the best watering techniques for your area. Humid climates will require less watering than drier climates but early morning watering is recommended for all regions to limit evaporation.

7. Weed Control. You will need to check your garden daily for weeds. This may be a bit of a challenge for new gardeners who may inadvertently pull a good plant. To avoid confusion, stick Popsicle sticks next to each plant.  

You will be amazed at the satisfaction you will feel when the first vegetables appear in the ground. Happy gardening!

PLANTING TIPS

Tomatoes, watermelon, squash, pepper- plant about 3 feet apart.

Beans, peas- plant 1 inch apart to start. As they grow, thin to about 4 inches apart.

Corn- plant a foot apart with 2 feet space between rows.

Carrots, onions, beets – plant about 1 inch apart. When they are about an inch tall, continue to thin out by pulling some out and saving them for your salad.

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